Locals call the Hillcrest neighborhood in Corpus Christi, Texas “cancer neighborhood” because “most of the people out here have died of cancer,” says resident Jean Salone, a breast cancer survivor herself. Living in the community, she says, “is like living in a death trap.”
For years the Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi—a Koch Industries subsidiary formerly called Koch Petroleum Group—has been emitting toxic pollutants. In 2010, Flint Hills Resources and another local refinery released more than 19,000 pounds of benzene, 25,000 pounds of toluene, 11,000 pounds of sulfuric acid, and 25,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide. Several public health studies have supported what residents have long believed: that the refineries’ emissions are directly connected to increased levels of cancer, birth defects, chronic asthma, and other lung diseases. A series of studies published between 2001 and 2006 found that “infants born from 1996 to 2002 in Nueces County, where Corpus Christi is located, had an 84 percent higher chance of being born with a birth defect than elsewhere in the state.” Another study found that Hillcrest residents have an average of 280 times more benzene in their bodies than the general American population.1
Residents are also concerned about a history of accidents caused by corporate negligence. In July 2012, for example, Flint Hills Resources reported a leak in one of its plants containing hydrofluoric acid, a chemical that can cause internal hemorrhaging and death. A spokesperson claimed that only trace amounts of the toxin had been released. The refinery often neglects to warn residents of the potential danger when accidents occur. Once a fire at the refinery sent black smoke billowing into sky. “They always say afterward on the news that the neighborhood was never in any danger,” Salone says. “It’s become a big joke among us. They [local emergency response officials] don’t even know where the handicapped people live, the people with oxygen tanks. They don’t know where a mother lives that has maybe five or six children. Some people they call, some they don’t. Never in any danger—I mean, come on.”
According to a survey conducted by the Citizens for Environmental Justice, 77 percent of local residents would like to move out of the neighborhood. However, air and groundwater contamination has devalued the properties by as much as 70 percent. In 1995 Flint Hills Resources purchased and demolished contaminated properties closest to their refinery, but didn’t go farther because the residents couldn’t prove the extent of groundwater contamination. However, a 2010 independent review commissioned by Citizens for Environmental Justice found that the contaminated groundwater extended far beyond the land purchased by the refinery.
Residents continue to live in these contaminated areas.
1 Lerner, Steve. Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012.
Del Bosque, M. & Reel, J. (2012, October 24). Kochworld: To see how the Koch brothers’ free-market utopia operates, look no further than Corpus Christi. Texas Observer. Retrieved from http://www.texasobserver.org/kochworld/